I have spent the last 12 months feeling like I have lost my mind. I have spent many nights in tears, at the end of my rope, not knowing how to parent this wounded soul. I have dug deep, and emptied my bag of parenting tricks, desperate to find a technique that gets through. As a family we have desperately counseled with other adoptive families, with our social workers, and with therapists as to how to effectively address the behaviors that have taken hold in our home. We have spent countless hours in prayer beseeching the Lord for answers and guidance.
Our days have been emotionally challenging as we have been torn down, lied to, ignored, mocked and manipulated…and no one knows it is happening.
To be blunt, the adoption road with Oz has been hard.
I have felt like I was going crazy as I have watched him transform in the presence of others. He becomes perfect, ideal, when we go out in public. He loves on me, hugs me, compliments me and calls me “the best mom ever” when others are watching. He is helpful and kind to his siblings when others are around. Who he is in the presence of strangers is a very different little boy than who I parent at home.
I would be a very rich woman if I had a dollar for every person who said to me, “Oh, that Ozzie, what a dream!” or “Boy, I bet you feel blessed to have an Ozzie after your hard road with Tyler.”
and I smile, and nod…they have no idea.
Parenting Ozzie has been the ultimate puzzle. He came to us with a gamut of diagnoses including Autism and RAD. He is an older child adoption. He is on a variety of medications for ADHD. He was severely abused as a child and has experienced multiple failed pre-adoptive placements. All of these factors come together and create a challenge in parenting. I would find myself assessing a behavior and asking myself, “Is this the abuse? Is this simply defiance? Is this the autism?” I was not sure what I was dealing with, thus I didn’t know how to parent it.
But God is faithful…Always faithful. He has seen our desperation, he has witnessed the hurts, He wants to see this child heal and this family bond. He heard our prayers and He sent help in the form of an adoption training class and an instructor by the name of Amy Swigart. The class was about a condition called RAD, or reactive attachment disorder. Since this is one of Ozzie’s diagnoses (Tyler’s too, although he hasn’t exhibited the same degree of symptoms) so we thought we would benefit from learning more.
Who knew this class would be the answer to those many prayers, prayed by a Momma who desperately loves her son. This class was a God-send! I realize I am NOT crazy. What I have been seeing is REAL. As I sat in that class with parents of RAD kids I felt the weight I had been shouldering with Toby for the last year lift. I wasn’t imagining those behaviors. It isn’t a personal vendetta towards me. It isn’t about how we are parenting or what we are doing right or wrong. This is a very real condition, a miswiring of the brain brought on by neglect in infancy (I could just wring his parents’ necks), with very real symptoms.
As she talked about the more common symptoms I found myself shouting within, “Yes, yes…that is what we are living with!” I felt relief as other parents shared, and I realized that we have been protected from some of the more severe symptoms of this condition. In the class, a 17-year-old girl with RAD shared her journey through therapy and healing, and I praised God at the healing that can come with help.
I finally feel like I have been given the map to navigate this foreign land I have found myself in.
Now that it has been named, we can begin healing…and that is a blessing!
Here are some of the symptoms described by Linda J. Rice in her book, “Parenting the Difficult Child.”
Typical RAD Characteristics:
Lack of Eye Contact
Eye contact is excellent only when the child is manipulating or is extremely angry. Otherwise, contact is avoided by averting or rolling the eyes, or by rapid blinking.
Resists Affection on Parents’ Terms
Affectionate touching and hugs are verbally and physically rejected. The child stiffens, pulls away, or turns the face away from a kiss on the cheek. Hugging a RAD baby can be like hugging a board. Gifts are often rejected. Praise and affection do not build reciprocity; he does not unconditionally give affection or gifts to family members.
Inappropriately Demanding and Clingy
Although he resists parental affection on the parents’ terms, he will, in his own timing, initiate ultra cuddly-sweet, even desperate, hugs.
Superficially Engaging and Charming
The child presents himself as mannerly, cute, sweet, bubbly, demure, cuddly, adoring, or helpless. He will laugh, hug intensely, rub his cheek on the adult’s hand, and even cling to new acquaintance with appealing possessiveness. Shy or bold, RAD children are shrewd analysts of others and calculate precisely how to get whatever response they want.
The unattached child diligently studies people and practices how to con others. He tells others what he thinks they want to hear. He becomes so skilled at an appearance of normalcy that is may be months before a person realizes he has been emotionally duped. The constant phoniness creates a sense of disconnect or remoteness in relationships.
Poor Peer Relationships
The antisocial child is usually a loner even if he appears to be friends with everyone. He tends to play with younger children because peers avoid him and younger children are more easily manipulated. He lacks long-term childhood friends.
Abnormal Speech Patterns
The unattached child speaks not to communicate but to control. A favorite technique is mispronouncing a word so that the adult will correct him. Slurring, mumbling, and nearly inaudible speech keep adults asking “What?” Yet, enunciation is crystal clear during an angry outburst. Giving ambiguous, rather than direct, answers to questions keeps adults probing for information. Other techniques include squeaks, forced laughter, incessant laughter, and incessant chatter. Nonsense question, questions about the obvious, or questions that make others feel awkward are also utilized.
Abnormal Eating Patterns
Patterns include stealing and hiding food, hoarding and gorging, refusal to eat, and eating strange things.
Difficulty Learning from Mistakes
No matter the consequences given by parents and society, the child will continue the behavior. He does not learn from positive or negative reinforcements.
Poor Impulse Control
A RAD child may speak kindly one moment, viciously the next. He may steal one moment, be generous in the next.
Intense Control Battles
The child works persistently to wrestle control of the household away from the parent. He behaves well when he wants something. Otherwise, testing, bossiness, arguments, baiting others, and pushing the limits continue unendingly. Every conversation is a manipulation opportunity. He pretends to not hear, not understand, or to misunderstand. A simple morning greeting might be delayed, dramatized, normal, a deliberate snub, a contemptuous grunt, a glare, a burst of laughter, or an antagonistic “What do you want?” A minute incident may start a control battle that continues unresolved for hours or days. He is as likely to sabotage a fun game as he is to participate.
Chronic Lying, Lies About the Obvious
Lying is highly skilled, chronic, blatant, and sometimes so ridiculous that the child seems unaware of reality. With his hand in the cookie jar, the child will answer, “What jar?” Lying is not reserved only for escape from trouble. It is a lifestyle. The child may lie about the color of the shirt he is wearing or who was at the birthday party, lying when it gains him nothing and when telling the truth would require less effort.
Lack of Remorse, Seeming Lack of Conscience
When confronted with misbehavior, the child rationalizes, minimizes the harm he caused, shows total indifference, offers excuses, or blames the victim. Remorse is shown only to reduce or prevent punishment. He becomes insolent or furious if an authority expects him to admit wrongdoing. His actions are justified. The expectations of the victim and/or the authority are unreasonable.
This has been our life for the past year…
but this is not how the story will end!
Now that we have stepped from the shadows we can begin healing.
I find myself holding tight to the promise that God can heal all wounds, all hurts…the ones inflicted 9 years ago on this little boy we love, and the ones that have been inflicted on the household more recently.
He will heal us all.
because God is good…